RI Commissioner Wants Test-Based Grad Requirements Pushed to 2020

Rhode Island State Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist is advocating for push back test-based graduation requirements from 2017 to 2020.

Gist said the recommendation comes after hearing multiple objections toward linking standardized testing with graduation from students, teachers, superintendents, and community leaders.

"We've moved this deadline before," she said. "Whenever we implement it, people feel they're not ready. We need every decision-maker to be behind this. What we learned from Massachusetts is that they had the support of decision-makers. Whatever date we choose, we have to be confident that it's the right choice."

The debate has been an ongoing one in the state since 2008. In 2012, the former Board of Regents pushed the requirement back until this year.

The state is set to fully implement Common Core standards for English and math, already adopted in 43 states. New statewide testing will also be placed this year, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Gist said the postponement of graduation requirements will allow students and teachers to prepare properly for the new standards and tests, which will be taken on computers for the first time.

"By the time the Class of 2020 enters high school, it will be six years since Rhode Island adopted the Common Core State Standards," she said. "… We believe this transition time will provide students, families, teachers and school leaders with more than enough time to become familiar with the Common Core and PARCC assessments."

Gist is also concerned about the growing opposition to the Common Core standards cropping up around the country. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has recently announced a delay in using student test scores for teacher evaluations.

New York teachers and parents have revolted against the testing system after scores took a huge hit last year. In Louisiana, parents and teachers are suing Governor Bobby Jindal, claiming he is illegally blocking the new test. Jindal, in turn, is suing the Obama administration. Other states are reporting technical issues when taking the exam.

"Until we get assurances that not only are our students ready for the PARCC but the PARCC is ready for our students, it's the correct play to push back the use of the test," he said. "You have to have buy-in from everyone. If we're going to do it, let's do it right," said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees.

Waivers for graduation requirement will need a closer look. Designed to only be used in exceptional cases, 12% of last year's graduating class ended up receiving them. In Providence alone, 200 seniors received the waiver who would not have graduated otherwise. This was the first class set to meet the graduation requirement.

Critics of the requirement claim it is unfair to poor, special needs, and English as a second language (ESL) students who cannot efficiently prepare for the exams. There are also claims that waivers are handed out unfairly and inconsistently.

Patrick Guida, chair for the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, said, "It's our collective responsibility — the education leadership, the General Assembly, the districts and the building principals — to make sure that we don't take our eyes off the prize."

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